BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. - The puck sat in the crease amidst a sea of legs, sticks, and skates, but somehow no one could get enough on it to either clear the zone or put a shot on net. Instead, an agonizing final 12 seconds ticked off and Canton’s comeback attempt ended just short and Medfield could swarm onto the ice and celebrate a title.
Medfield (18-3-3) survived a late goal and a last-ditch faceoff and scramble in front of its net to win the Division 2 South sectional title 3-2 at Gallo Arena on Sunday afternoon.
In its first year in D2 and after being eliminated in the sectional semifinal three times in the last four years, Medfield reaches the state final at the TD Garden.
“We held on at the end,” said Medfield senior forward Justin Hirschfeld, who scored twice on Sunday. “We fought hard and came out with the win in the end. This is history for Medfield, I mean, in four years no one has ever done it -- it’s a big accomplishment for us.”
It was Hirschfeld that opened the scoring with 1:04 left in the opening period. He made a great move at the blue line that left two Canton defensemen in his wake. Justin Slocum made the initial save but the puck came right back to Hirschfeld, who fired it into the roof of the net.
He remarked, “It was definitely a big lift for our team, boosted everyone’s confidence, and we really got going after that.”
Canton coach Brian Shuman pointed to the opening goal as a turning point.
He said, “The one that hurt us was the one on two at the end of the first period. We do those in our sleep and we trap that one guy, but our weakside defenseman was just a little too far over and let him split the middle, which doesn’t happen too often to us.”
Medfield was outshot, 7-3, in the first, but the goal sparked a much better second period with the Warriors dominating puck possession. Canton seemed to be struggling against the speed of the Warriors and, with 7:10 left in the period, Matt Treiber cycled the puck behind Slocum and picked out Hirschfeld with a perfect pass to the slot for a one-timer that made it 2-0.
“He’s a horse,” said Medfield head coach Toby Carlow about his senior forward. “He does the little things that fit his game. He’s extremely fast and he uses that to his advantage -- he never stops working. When you do that, you get rewarded and pucks find you.”
Canton (15-5-4) struggled to get anything going offensively. The Bulldogs had difficulty getting the puck out of its defensive zone against the Warriors forecheck and, when Canton tried to transition into the attack, Medfield’s defensemen were able to break up passing moves at the blue line.
According to Shuman, “That blue line might as well have been a wall. The one thing that we could have done a better job with is not turning the puck over at their blue line, make an extra move, and work the puck in deep.”
In the third period, Canton finally found a breakthrough.
On the power play, leading scorer Matt Lazaro found space behind the Medfield net and found senior defenseman Tony Francescon creeping in from the point. Francescon took a second before unleashing a great wrist shot into the top corner past Medfield goalie Dan Graham to make it 2-1 with 7:24 remaining.
“We knew it was never going to be easy,” said Carlow. “No matter what the score was they were going to come out in the third period and really press us…and they did. We did the little things that we needed to do and executed the chances they gave us.”
Medfield stole back the momentum three minutes later with the man advantage. Senior Matt Dresens was on hand to tap in the rebound and seemingly wrap up the title for the Warriors.
Carlow said, “They didn’t really have much offense up to that point and, you know, that can really be what jumpstarts them. We kind of shut that down by going down and getting one -- that really seemed to take the wind out of their sails.”
But, Canton would not quit and with 21 seconds remaining and an extra attacker on the ice, sophomore John Femia gave the Bulldogs hope. Nine seconds later a clearance by the Warriors slid inches wide of the net for icing, which gave Canton one last attacking face-off.
“I think pound-for-pound talent-wise that Medfield has the talent but we’re going to fight to the very end,” said Shuman. “We were just one kick in, one shot, away from tying it at the end.”
The Bulldogs won the faceoff and got a shot on Graham and then crashed the crease desperately trying to get one last shot, but the Warriors did enough to block any chances and earn the victory.
Medfield will have a week to prepare for the Division 2 state title game at the TD Garden against the winner of Beverly and Tewksbury.